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LEARNING TO MAKE LANTERNS IN HOI AN

Hoi An is one of the most touristy spots in Vietnam, and it’s easy to understand why. Apart from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An is also simply beautiful to look at. Its Old Town, which is situated by a river, features colorful old buildings decorated with vibrant hanging lanterns.

The lanterns were first brought to the country by Chinese tradesmen in the 16th century via the Maritime Silk Route. Over the years, the design evolved from the traditional red hexagonal lanterns into a range of interesting shapes and colors. The Vietnamese also substituted the wooden frame with bamboo. Hoi An is the birthplace of these Vietnamese-style lanterns.

And the great thing about the lanterns in Hoi An is that not only can you buy them as souvenirs, you can also learn how to make them (and of course take home your finished artwork)! 

How to Get to Hoi An

The nearest airport is in Da Nang, which has domestic connections from major cities in Vietnam and some international flights from Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Siem Reap, and Hong Kong. To get to Hoi An from Da Nang Airport, you can get a direct transfer. Klook offers the cheapest and most convenient airport transfer to Hoi An. 

Alternatively, if you’d like to spend some time in Da Nang first, you can take the shared shuttle to Da Nang, and from there, take the yellow local bus to Hoi An. The bus number is #1. It is available every 20-30 minutes on Ong Ich Khiem Road (near the train station). Beware that they might try to overcharge you. The correct bus fare is VND20,000 per person.

Image result for yellow hoi an bus
Credit: Flowing Firm

The journey will take approximately 50 minutes, terminating at the Hoi An bus station, which is just outside the center. From the bus station, take a xe-om (motorbike taxi) to your hotel/guesthouse. It needs some haggling, but the standard fare should be around VND10,000 – 15,000.

Lantern-Making Classes in Hoi An

There are several lantern-making classes in the Old Town of Hoi An.

I went to Hoi An Handicraft Tours (Cua Hang Den Long) on Tran Cao Van street. It was not the cheapest but I chose it because it was the closest to where I was staying (literally on the same street). The other selling point is that they allow you to make your lantern from scratch, unlike most other workshops where you are only taught how to attach fabric to a premade frame.

Hoi An Handicraft Tours

Hoi An Handicraft Tours is a family-owned business run by three siblings who have had more than 6 years’ experience in the industry since taking over the business from their grandfather. Initially, they only sold lanterns, which they still do, but since the end of 2017, they have been conducting daily lantern-making classes as well. 

Other Lantern-Making Classes in Hoi An

1. Reaching Out Lantern Workshop (103 Nguyen Thai Hoc)
Monday – Friday, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Price: VND 345,000 (USD 15)
 
This workshop provides job opportunities to people with disabilities and equips them with the necessary skills to help them find employment. Apart from lantern-making classes, they also offer other craft workshops and tours.
 
2. The Lantern Lady Workshop (09A Pham Hong)
Everyday, anytime between 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Price: VND 90,000 (USD 4) for a 1-hour class with a premade frame / VND 135,000 (USD 6) for a 1.5-hour class to make the lantern from scratch.
 
Located close to the center of Old Town, this workshop offers a more authentic local vibe and will make you feel like you are in a traditional Vietnamese home.
 
 
 
3. Travel Hoi An Lantern Making Tour (31 Nguyen Van Cu)
Everyday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. / 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Price: VND 345,000 (USD 15) 
 
This is the only lantern-making workshop that is combined with a tour, namely a bicycle tour. You will cycle with a guide to the workshop in Cam Chau Village. Afterwards, you will cycle back to your hostel with your newly-made lantern.
 
4. Thao Quynh Lantern-Making Class (373 Cua Dai St)
Price: VND 150,000 (USD 7.50) 
 
Probably the cheapest one in town, this workshop takes place in front of a small shop that sells retail and wholesale lanterns. The schedule is flexible. There might be some language barrier, but nothing that sign language and Google Translate can’t solve.

How to Book

If you’re one person or a small group, chances are you can just walk in and attend any of those classes without prior booking. Otherwise, it is better to book ahead to avoid disappointment. Most of the workshops have their own websites or Facebook pages through which you can make a reservation.

I booked my class at Hoi An Handicraft Tours using the Klook app because it offered a special discount. You can also get cashbacks that you can use to offset your next purchase.

FULL CLASS (Making the Lantern from Scratch)
Duration: 3 hours
Price: VND 380,000 VND 323,000

EXPRESS CLASS (Making the Lantern Using a Pre-made Frame)
Duration: 1.5 hours
Price: VND 250,000 VND 235,000

For first-time Klook users, register using this referral code to get a HKD 25 voucher: FFKSC.

This class is also suitable for kids, although some of the younger ones may require assistance or supervision from the parents.

The Class

Lantern making class in progress
The workspace can accommodate up to 15 people.

When I arrived at the shop, the previous class was still going on, so I had to wait for a little while. They served me a cup of hot tea (which they kindly refilled throughout the class). In the meantime, I got the chance to look around the place and watch the other participants give finishing touches to their lanterns. I was also asked to take a look at the choices of fabrics available, which I would later need to choose for my lantern.

A cup of tea with lantern making equipment

If you love colors and oriental decorations, you’d go crazy in here. The room is overflowing with lanterns of all shapes and colors. Some are even handpainted with motifs of flowers, trees, and birds. Make sure you bring enough cash with you in case you want to bring some home. They are collapsible, so you can easily fit them in your luggage.

Choosing the Shape of Your Lantern

Once the instructors were ready, they told us a brief history of the lanterns in Vietnam and introduced us to the various shapes of the lanterns, each one with its own unique name — the garlic, the cake, the UFO, the umbrella, and the traditional lotus.
 
Various lantern shapes in Hoi An

As beginners, we could only choose between the sunrise garlic (with the wider part at the top) or the sunset garlic (with the wider part at the bottom). The ones you see in the picture above are mostly sunrise garlics. I chose sunset because it seemed to be less common and because sunset is my favorite time of the day.

Making the Bamboo Frame

The next step is to bend the bamboo sticks into your desired shape. You will take 12 bamboo sticks, string them together with a piece of wire, and then bend them with the help of a stone pillar at the entrance of the shop. Bending the bamboos actually required considerable strength, I don’t think I would have managed to do it on my own. Luckily, the instructor was there to assist me.

Lantern bamboo frames

If this doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can save yourself the trouble and opt for an express class instead, where you will use a premade bamboo frame.

Choosing the Color of Your Lantern

Next, you will choose the fabric(s) for your lantern. There are many different colors available. You can choose either silk or linen, or you can even mix two different materials/colors together. Now is the time to get creative! Red and gold are considered lucky colors, while yellow is the traditional Buddhist color that also represents Hoi An. I chose a dark-teal silk.

Making lanterns in Hoi An

It was only later that I found out that green — and I suppose any shade with a greenish undertone — was an unlucky color in Vietnamese culture. Oh well. At least it matched my bed sheets.

Attaching the Fabric to the Frame

The next step is the most crucial. Whether or not your lantern is fit for display will depend on how well you execute this step. First, you have to apply glue on the bamboo frame. Then, you will need to attach the fabrics to the frame, stretching them taut so that there are no creases. Lastly, you will trim the edges using a pair of scissors. Extreme care must be taken throughout the whole process.

The Finished Product

I’m proud to report that I was the first to finish the lantern. Even the instructors remarked that I was very fast (not something people usually say about me).

Well, I had a bus to catch.

We put the lantern over a lightbulb to see how it would look like lighted up. And this was the result:

My lantern
My beautiful lantern shining bright and proud.
 

The Verdict

Overall, I was deeply satisfied with the experience. The three siblings were all very friendly and engaged me in interesting conversations about our respective countries. One of the brothers, Diep even knew how to sing a Malaysian song.
 
With the Lantern-Making Instructor
With one of the instructors
 
Apart from the lantern-making workshop, Hoi An Handicraft tours also organises other workshops and classes such as cooking, fishing, pottery, wood carving and mat weaving. So, if you’re in Hoi An and looking for something interesting to do, I highly recommend giving them a visit.

Posted in Vietnam

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